Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner Too? by Patricia Kaersenhout | Opening by Astrid H. Roemer
Community art project, exhibition, and performance
29 June to 30 September 2017 | WOW Amsterdam | Opening: Thursday 29 June 5pm
ʻGuess Whoʼs Coming to Dinner Too?ʼ is a community art project by visual artist and activist Patricia Kaersenhout, in cooperation with the Amsterdams Grafisch Atelier (AGA LAB), Het GildeLab, BYBROWN and WOW Amsterdam. With this project, Kaersenhout (1966) delivers an artistic critique of Judy Chicagoʼs ʻThe Dinner Partyʼ (1979), which celebrates strong women but denies women of colour their sexuality. Inspired by this work, Kaersenhout builds an installation consisting of a large triangular dining table, full of symbolism, where she honours 36 Black women, ʻheroines of resistanceʼ.
Black is here written with a capital ʻBʼ, as itʼs not the colour of skin but the political meaning that matters. Black feminists in the eighties came up with the term to refer to all non-white women. Later ʻZMV-vrouwenʼ came about; an abbreviation of ‘Zwarte, Migranten en Vluctelingenvrouwen’ meaning black, migrant and refugee women.
The exhibition will be opened by a performance on Thursday 29 June, during which 36 men will perform a ʻhakaʼ (Maori ceremonial war dance) in honour of these 36 women while wearing robes specially designed for the exhibition. The linings are printed with images and texts about the heroines, all from non-western cultures. They resisted their oppressors and advocated equal rights and are thus represented on the table. During the performance, their stories are born literally and figuratively by the men.
Kaersenhout researched hidden and forgotten stories over the past months like she did before in a body of work that unfolds as an artistic search for the meaning of invisibility as a result of the African diaspora and colonialism. Her work embodies the paradox of wanting to visualise the unseen and to allow the undefinable.
Black women and acts of resistance
The subjects Kaersenhout researches and broaches deal with the position of Black women in relation to sexuality, slavery, colonialism, and racism. Her mode of working is often thoroughly sourced and aims to entwine lost histories and a personal quest for equal rights for Black girls and women.
In 2015 Kaersenhout opened her previous exhibition ʻRebelse Trotsʼ (Rebellious Pride) at CKB Zuidoost, Amsterdam; a project about the important Black feminist movement of the 1980s. The artist got the women back together. This resulted in two short films, a portraiture series and a large group portrait that also honours two women posthumously. This work was hung in the portrait gallery at the Amsterdam Museum.
The social aspect plays an increasingly dominant role in Kaersenhoutʼs professional practice. While working on ʻRebelse Trotsʼ she traveled to Senegal, by invitation of the Dutch Embassy. There she developed a preventive project around female trafficking and forced prostitution – forms of modern slavery, often a consequence of a weak economic position. Kaersenhout had local girls embroider the portraits of the feminists, by which she supported them, while it added to the power of the pictures portraying women who until this day fight for equal rights for Black girls and women.
Community art project
ʻGuess Whoʼs Coming to Dinner Too?ʼ is firmly rooted in Amsterdam West through a unique, intensive collaboration between three cultural institutions: AGA LAB, GildeLab, WOW Amsterdam and local creatives, such as the emerging fashion label BYBROWN.
The project has come about thanks to working closely with mainly non-Western women from WOWʼs immediate surroundings. Kaersenhout spoke with them and heard stories about their heroines and role models. Moreover, Het GildeLabʼs trainee seamstresses, who are part of a work-study program, sewed the robes. Finally, women at AGA LAB printed the tablecloth with graphic patterns showing each heroineʼs strength and napkins with their names.
Read more about this project on their official Facebook page.
Dinners, lectures, and talks
Together with the exhibition, a handout and a podcast is available with the biographies of the 36 heroines. During its running time, ʻGuess Whoʼs Coming to Dinner Too?ʼ is activated by dinners, talks, lectures and film screenings about the various themes recurring in Patricia Kaersenhoutʼs work. Kaersenhoutʼs ultimate goal is to have the installation travel around the globe and find its final resting place at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York, where Judy Chicagoʼs work is also on show.
This project was made possible thanks to the generous financial support of Mondriaan Fonds, Gemeente Amsterdam, Stadsdeel Amsterdam West and Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst.
The installation will be opened on Thursday 29 June at 5pm and will be on show until 30 September 2017 at WOW Amsterdam. Entry is free.